If you hail from the decadent west, then October 31st is generally seen as a time for the kids to dress up in scary costumes and then pester the neighbours for free sweets. For those on the wrong side of 12, a novelty 'punch' may be thrown into the mix and you may find yourself waking up next to a witch (the warts may or may not be real). Halloween is a far cry from the traditions of All Saints’ Day (Polish: Dzień Wszystkich Świętych) and All Souls’ Day (Polish: Dzień Zaduszny or Dzień Wszystkich Zmarłych).
In the Christian calendar, All Saints' Day on November 1st is a day of dedicated prayer for the souls of saints and martyrs.
All Souls' Day on November 2nd is a day of general prayer for all other Christian souls: family, friends and loved-ones. However, since November 1st is a public holiday, most people will focus their prayers and customs on All Saints' Day. In Poland and many other devout nations across Europe, the tradition is for families to visit the graves of the dearly-departed, light a candle, lay flowers or a wreath and say a prayer. The burning light of the candle flame is meant as comfort for souls languishing in the darkness of purgatory. Other practices around this calendar event (and arguably from a more pagan influence in Western Christianity) involve the charity of handing out small cakes and sweet-bread to the poor and young children as a 'soul-cleansing' measure. This would, of course, further increase your chances of getting into heaven! Over the centuries, this has evolved into the corporate anomaly of Halloween as it is known in North-American society.
Practical Info for All Saints' Day in GdańskAs one of Poland’s most important public holidays, only public transportation and emergency response employees are obliged to work on November 1st (which falls on a Sunday in 2020). This year's events will look very different due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, with the Polish government announcing on Friday 30 October that all cemeteries will be closed Saturday 31 October - 02 November 2020 to prevent overcrowding. Prior to this announcement, even the Polish Catholic Church urged everyone not to visit cemeteries at the same time on 01/02 November, but to span it out in the weeks before and after, and it seems this is the best course of action. Such is the importance of this tradition, there's no doubt people will still tend to the graves of their loved ones, ensuring the glow of candles will continue throughout November.
Where to go to experience All Saints Day in Gdańsk?
Arguably the most picturesque cemetery in Gdańsk is in the leafy district of Oliwa. It's the city's third-largest cemetery, dating back to 1832. Amidst the trees and old tombstones from an era-passed, there is no better place in the city to experience the sombre atmosphere that a late afternoon walk through a graveyard lit by thousands upon thousands of flickering candles can create. Find this cemetery to the north of Oliwa Park.
CEMETERY OF THE LOST CEMETERIES
While it may sound like a title for another Indiana Jones sequel, the namesake of this cemetery is quite important. The site is dedicated to the citizens of Gdańsk who were once buried in one of the city’s 27 graveyards either destroyed during WWII or bulldozed on purpose after the end of the war. the new Cemetery of Lost Cemeteries was designed to resemble a temple. The main memorial is surrounded by broken gravestones representing all faiths, and includes a poem by the Jewish poet Masha Kaleko (1912-1975), whose poetry was burnt on the direct orders of Hitler in May 1933. A particularly moving site to visit during November 1st. Find this cemetery between The Church Of Corpus Christi and Gdańsk Główny Bus Station.
JEWISH CEMETERY IN CHEŁM
Whilst the Jewish community do not observe All Saints' Day, you will find some candles in Jewish graveyards such as the one in Chełm. The candles you see are most likely placed by people extending their prayers outside of their normal circle of faith, which is a beautiful gesture nevertheless. The cemetery itself dates back to 1694 and is an interesting visit nevertheless. To get there from Gdańsk Old Town: Catch Bus 154 or 189 from Brama Wyżynna 04 on the edge of and go two stops (Elmet 02). Get out and cross over the Raduni Canal, turn right and follow the road around to the right. Eventually you will see the entry to the cemetery. To get back, return to the main road and catch the same bus from the stop on the opposite side!